May 30, 2010

Lydia's Reckless Abandon #1: A Beginner's Perspective

Sometimes my recipes can seem complex, but anyone can apply these principles to cooking and have positive results.  The following is a guest blog entry by a beginning cook, who also happens to be my wife.  She has very little experience in the kitchen and prior to our marriage, her "go-to" dinner was angel hair pasta with a jar of sauce and frozen veggies.  

Check out her wonderful experience at gourmet cooking...

Today I tried to be Dave and make a gourmet dinner while Dave was out shopping.  I did this without any advance planning and just with what we had in the house.  As you may know, my idea of cooking is cooking Angel Hair pasta (takes 3 minutes) and then adding pasta sauce from the jar and hoping the pasta warms up the pasta and then maybe cutting up some stuff for a salad to go with it. So, if I can do this gourmet cooking thing, really, anyone can!   

Here is my story:

I wanted to go for a mushroom and white wine type rice dish with chickpeas.  I forgot to add the mushrooms (Doh!) and I didn't realize that chickpeas take WAY longer than rice to cook (especially if you don't soak them!).  What was really silly is that we had a container of already cooked chickpeas I could have used but I didn't know that/see them!  Regardless of all those things, it came out really good (just had cruncky chickpeas)!  The chickpea part of the recipe below is modified so this recipe will come out correctly!

I call this recipe: Lydia's Reckless Abandon #1

1.5 cups Water
1.5 cups white wine
2 cups Arroborio Rice
1 - 2 cans of drained canned chickpeas (or 1 - 2 cups of previously cooked chickpeas)
2 cloves of garlic (I used a garlic press, no fancy chopping for me)
juice of 1/2 of a lemon
1 tsp tarragon
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp thyme
1/2 rsp GROUND (not twig like) rosemary

I cooked the rice according to the package directions re: ratio of water to rice and replaced 1/2 the called for water with white wine.  The package called for 20 minutes of cooking and then it is supposed to sit for 10 minutes, which I followed.

I also separately steamed 2 small/medium sized zucchini's and cut up 3 raw carrots and a pear (My daughter wanted a pear so I told her I'd add one to dinner!).

When the zucchini was done I layered the plates with it and then added the carrots and pear around the sides.  After the rice was done (with the chickpeas still crunchy in my case!), I scooped the rice/chickpeas mixture over the zucchini.  Dave made a carrot garnish for me and I decided what to do with it-see picture!  Dave also recommended that we squeeze the other 1/2 of the lemon over the plates before serving which he did for me.

It was actually really good (other than the crunchy chickpeas)!

However, there is always room for improvement. Next time, I think I might use less white wine, replace maybe only 1/3 of the total water with wine.  Dave thought it was fine but I felt the wine taste was a little strong.  I also think I would steam the carrots instead of using raw ones.  Then there are the mushrooms I totally forgot about, I'd add those next time for the last 5 minutes of rice cooking time! Lastly, I felt like the dish needed a little more color so next time I might use steamed broccoli instead of or in addition to the pears or put some steamed broccoli on the top of the rice or something.

So that's my story!  Again, I must say that if I can do this gourmet cooking thing, anyone can!  Best wishes!  

May 12, 2010

Recipe: Baklava

Baklava is a personal weakness of mine and one of the great hurdles of fat-free cooking.  Typically, when cooking with phyllo dough, oil is brushed between every sheet of dough.  If you are using 12-15 sheets of dough, that much fat can add up contributing even more to the great big health disaster known as the standard American diet.

Even though this dish has no added oil, it is a small-portion, special-occasion type dish.  It has a lot of sugar.  The phyllo is processed but you can actually find whole wheat organic phyllo dough if you are lucky.  Because of the large amount of sugar, this recipe is not tops on the list of nutrient-dense foods, but the phyllo dough technique I use is noteworthy as we learn to cook in new and different ways to leave all the fat behind.  

14 sheets of phyllo dough (roughly half of a package)
4 C toasted chopped almonds or walnuts or both
2 T cinnamon

4 C raw sugar
2 C water
1/2 C agave nectar
1 t cinnamon
1/2 t cloves

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Make sure phyllo dough is at room temperature.  It usually takes two hours to thaw if it has been frozen.

While the oven is preheating, make the syrup.  Mix the sugar, water, agave, and spices together in a pan. Turn heat on high.  Cook to a syrup state at 230 degrees.  Use a candy thermometer for accuracy.  Careful to watch your syrup at 212 degrees.  It will want to boil over so use at least a 3 quart pot instead of a small sauce pan.  Stirring quickly at 212 degrees should also help prevent much of this mess.

While the syrup is heating, mix the toasted chopped almonds and cinnamon.  Once the sugar syrup is done, turn off the heat and set it aside.

On a cookie sheet, lay one sheet of phyllo and mist it with a spray bottle.  Place cookie sheet in oven for two minutes until the phyllo sheet is golden brown.  Remove from oven and place on cooling rack.  Do this will all 16 sheets.  Yes, we are cooking each phyllo sheet individually.  I use two cookie sheets and the process goes much faster.  You will also never get a soggy baklava using this technique.

Place two baked phyllo sheets on the bottom of a dry 16 x 9 rectangular pan.  Drizzle your syrup over the layer to cover.  Then add two more sheets, and a handful of the nuts to cover the layer.  Drizzle your syrup over the layer.

Add two more sheets of baked phyllo, another layer of nuts and drizzle more syrup to cover.
Add two more sheets of baked phyllo, another layer of nuts and drizzle more syrup to cover.
Add two more sheets of baked phyllo, another layer of nuts and drizzle more syrup to cover.

Add two more sheets of baked phyllo (no nuts) and drizzle more syrup to cover.
Add two more sheets of baked phyllo (no nuts) and drizzle more syrup to finish the dish.

That's it.  No further baking required.  Cut into diamonds and sprinkle with a few nuts for garnish.


May 1, 2010

What's Cooking today at Le Chateau Soleil?

Deep-dish pizza with a whole-wheat crust, spinach and mushrooms